Nova Scotia·Blog

Individualized program plans not a quick fix for students

Three teachers share their thoughts on Nova Scotia's education system.

Scott Adamson is a retired teacher in Pictou County who substitutes in the classroom

Before students are placed on an IPP they are tested by a school psychologist who administers and interprets a psycho-educational assessment. (Tom Woodward/Flickr Creative Commons)

An investigation into a complaint made by the head of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union — that teachers are not able to enforce deadlines on classroom assignments or give zeros to students who never deliver — spurred a series called Making the Grade on CBC Radio's Mainstreet last week.

There were conversations about whether teachers have the time and resources to cater to the varying levels of ability in their classrooms, and talk about standardized tests and what they do and do not measure.

We asked three teachers to share their thoughts with us. This is from Scott Adamson, who was a teacher for 32 years and in retirement, a substitute teacher for 10 years:

What is an IPP?

An IPP is an individualized program plan, compiled because of the requirement in the Education Act that each student be offered a program that will meet their learning needs.

Such a plan is often first considered if a student is more than two grade levels behind in key areas, such as reading and mathematics. IPPs also should be considered when students are two or more grade levels advanced.

This rarely happens, but it is what IPPs are designed to do — meet the student where they are and draft an appropriate program given what is known from data collected.

Students could have an individualized program plan in one or more subject areas; they could have an IPP "across the board" — an entire individualized plan.

Before students are placed on an IPP, they are tested by a school psychologist who administers and interprets a psycho-educational assessment. Once the educators have determined that an IPP is warranted, parents are involved and encouraged to offer input and sign on.

Not well implemented

Although the planning of an individualized program is quite well done, the implementation is not.

The common complaint by teachers is that the diversity of needs in their classroom is overwhelming. They have to put together lesson plans to accommodate the needs of each student.

They worry about classroom management issues and about physically being able to carry this out each class, each day.

Teachers in practice have said things such as, "I am struggling to meet the needs of all of my students" or " I can't seem to get to all of my students."

In essence, they are saying that some students do not receive direct, appropriate, daily instruction from their teacher.

What is the fix?

In many cases, students with an IPP are not receiving any direct instruction from their teacher. 

If students are not receiving direct instruction because their teacher is "unable to get to them," then what is the fix?

The fix is team-teaching. All members of the teaching team should be familiar with the students' records well before the first day of school.

The classroom teacher leads this effort and the school administration puts resources in place when and where needed to make it a success.

The team confers, plans and assesses students and tweaks things as needed.

Teacher satisfaction will increase, the school climate will improve and, most important of all, students will be receiving what they should have been all along  — direct, daily, differentiated instruction.

Scott Adamson was a teacher for 32 years and in retirement, a substitute teacher for 10 years.

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